Mark Casse will have three horses in the Juvenile Fillies and a strong favourite in the Mile at this years' Breeder's Cup, but experience has taught him to never assume anything.
Casse, nine times Canada's top trainer, has three wins in thoroughbred racing's premiere event but the first two didn't come until 2015. So while the 56-year-old American has seven horses running Nov. 3-4 in Del Mar, Calif., he's very much tempering expectations.
"I'm proud to be bringing seven horses that have legitimate chances," Casse said in a telephone interview Thursday. "How it unfolds only the racing gods know and they don't tell me a thing."
But with Del Mar's limited schedule (36 dates this year), Casse figures racing luck will be a factor.
"For the most part there's not been a whole lot of proven form at Del Mar because there's just not been much racing there," he said. "So it's going to be who takes to everything and who handles everything.
"I don't care how good you are, how good you think you are if you don't have luck it doesn't matter. I never take anything for granted and never expect anything so then I'm not disappointed."
World Approval, last month's $800,000 Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile champion, headlines Casse's stable. The five-year-old gelding's victory at Woodbine Racetrack secured an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Mile and the 10-time winner from 23 career starts ($1.837 million in earnings) is expected to be a race favourite.
"I thought he was pretty impressive in the Mile, I thought he won with a little something left," Casse said. "This is an entirely different type of race because now we're going a mile around two turns, sharper turns, but he's shown a fondness for that.
"I think it actually gives us a bit of an advantage (over) the Europeans because they're not used to the tight turns."
Casse's other Breeders' Cup starters are Awesome Slew (Dirt Mile), Holding Gold (Turf Sprint), Wonder Gadot, Heavenly Love and Gio Game (Juvenile Fillies) and Flameaway (Juvenile Turf).
World Approval, the 2/1 Woodbine Mile favourite, trailed only Dragon Bay at the half-mile mark but surged into the lead and cruised to a 2 1/2-length victory over Lancaster Bomber, also in the Breeders' Cup Mile field. The win was Casse's second straight in the race and a record fifth for jockey John Velazquez, who'll ride World Approval in California.
"That wasn't his ideal trip, he prefers to have a target," Casse said. "There was no target that day but I feel pretty confident there'll be (at Breeders' Cup), there's some pretty fast horses going in this race.
"Ideally he'll stalk. Well, ideally he'll win. However that occurs, I don't really care. My only preference is he win."
Casse will send Gio Game, Heavenly Love and Ontario-bred Wonder Gadot postward in the Juvenile Fillies. All three two-year-olds ran three times this year, with Heavenly Love and Wonder Gadot both winning twice and finishing third although Heavenly Love has earned more ($322,000-$142,973).
Gio Game has a win and two second-place finishes ($72,200 in earnings). But Casse likens her to Valdorna, who was second in last year's race, three-quarters of a length behind Champagne Room.
"When the dust clears I'd say Heavenly Love will be the shortest price of the three," Casse said. "We really believe Gio Game is a good filly but she's going to be a bit of a price.
"Wonder Gadot is also an extremely talented filly, the only problem is she's never run on dirt. She trains well on it but how you run on it is the big question with her."
Casse said the post positions could be pivotal.
"If you get outside, that could be an issue because there's 14 horses and it's not a real long run to the first turn," Casse said. "You could be hung out to dry in the first turn."
Flameaway has won three-of-four races this year but makes his grass debut in the Juvenile Turf. Ironically, the Ontario-bred chestnut colt qualified for the Breeders' Cup event by winning the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes, a turf race that was instead run on a sloppy Keeneland main track.
"Three times I've tried to run Flameaway on turf and for one reason or another it always gets cancelled," Casse said. "I was kidding with someone and said, 'We may have our first monsoon at Del Mar,' because we've been anxious to get him on the turf.
"I'm sure he'll be a longshot for that reason but don't count him out. He's not fancy, he doesn't run fast but he does something you always want your horse to do and that's win."
Casse feels Awesome Slew and Holding Gold will both have to come up big to emerge victorious.
"Awesome Slew is coming into the race really well but it will need to set up for him," Casse said. "As far as Holding Gold goes, it's 5/8s on grass and you definitely need some breaks there.
"The thing is if you're not in it you can't win it so we're in it."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press